This Rock is on a Roll
The Perfectly Circular Rock, an audio drama produced as a collaboration between UVA Drama and WTJU 91.1FM, was recently awarded a 2021 Silver Microphone for audio drama from the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System.
The project was first inspired in 2018 when then Drama Department Chair Colleen Kelly came to Drama professor Doug Grissom with a proposal to work with WTJU and his graduate actors to create an audio drama. Marianne Kubik, UVA Drama Artistic Director & Associate Professor in the Department of Drama soon came on board, and the team began to chip away at a concept. It was slow going, especially at the start. “There were so many voices and so many interests,” Kubik said. “To me, it was a little like ‘write a five-page paper on World War II.’ Sometimes having the world is too much.”
One of the students broke the logjam, Grissom recalled, with an offhand comment. “The student said, ‘It could be about anything,’” he said. “‘It could be about a perfectly circular rock.’” Grissom responded immediately. “I said, ‘That’s it! That is what we are doing!’” And thus was born a multi-part drama about the sudden appearance of said perfectly circular rock in a mid-sized town. The rock served as a dramatic centerpiece and spun off a variety of stories that ranged from the silly to the supernatural.
And now, nearly three years after its initial launch, news of the award took Grissom and Kubik by surprise. “I got a notice about a nomination, or that it was in a competition, but when I learned we won the award, it was a really nice surprise,” Grissom said. But, of course, the accolade is not the only attention the drama is still getting these days. Grissom reports that the series continues to appear on leading podcast charts and has been heard as far afield as Costa Rica and even Australia.
“Who’d have ever thought?” Kubik said.
It’s a phrase that can be used for the Art World and the whole world when you look at the past couple of years. Who’d have thought the genre of radio dramas, which allowed actors to work together on an entirely virtual platform, would enjoy a resurgence in the midst of a pandemic? “I think that in many ways, the pandemic really alerted a lot of people to how much fun audio dramas can be, especially since they can be marketed as podcasts and the podcast world is so hot right now,” Grissom said.
Kubik pointed out that the allure of the genre dates back generations. “I am reminded that we had radio before we had television,” she said. “I have always been fascinated by the whole War of the Worlds phenomenon, the idea that people were gathered around those radios and that it all felt so real. Radio dramas open up whole new dimensions that live theatre and film don’t.”
Grissom agreed, “I always say that one of the advantages of theatre over film is that it uses the audience’s imagination because we cannot recreate an environment the way that film can. The audience will almost always use their own imaginations to fill things out, and audio drama is even more so that way. You are using your mind to create these entire worlds. “
Both hope that the unintentional light thrown on the genre by the pandemic will continue to shine. Kubik is already exploring the possibility of having acting students read short stories or plays that come out of UVA creative writing classes, highlighting that work and allowing her students to hone important skills like voice acting. “I got to thinking about how our undergraduate and graduate acting students can connect more with other students and projects,” she said. “And because audiobooks are so popular now, I thought how great it would be if our acting students can read the creative writing projects that our students in that department are doing. I can see a podcast around reading and discussing a short story or even plays. It would be such a great interdepartmental connection.”
Hear The Perfectly Circular Rock on Apple Podcasts.